WASHINGTON - President Bush took the rare step yesterday of revoking a pardon he had granted only a day before, after learning of political contributions to Republicans by the man's father and other information.
Bush pardoned 19 people Tuesday, including Isaac R. Toussie of Brooklyn, N.Y., a residential developer who had been convicted of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and of mail fraud. Yesterday, the White House issued an extraordinary statement saying Bush was reversing his decision in Toussie's case.
The reversal was "based on information that has subsequently come to light," including the extent and nature of Toussie's prior criminal offenses, Bush press secretary Dana Perino said. She also said neither the White House counsel's office nor Bush had been aware of a political contribution by Toussie's father that "might create an appearance of impropriety."
"Given that, this was the prudent thing to do," Perino said. The new information came out in news reports, she said.
She said she was not aware of any other pardon reversal in a presidential administration.
The New York Daily News reported that Toussie's father, Robert, donated $28,500 to the Republican National Committee in April, just months before his son's pardon petition.
According to Federal Election Commission records, the contribution came after a March fund-raiser for presidential candidate John McCain. An additional $2,300 went to McCain's campaign.
The Daily News article, another in Newsday, and blogs also shed light on Isaac Toussie's record.
He pleaded guilty to lying to HUD and mail fraud, admitting he had falsified the finances of prospective home buyers seeking HUD mortgages. He was sentenced in 2003 to five months in prison and five months of house arrest plus a $10,000 fine, the Daily News reported.
In another case, Toussie pleaded guilty to having a friend send his county a letter that falsely inflated property values.
The Daily News also found a lawyer representing hundreds of ex-customers who have sued Toussie in federal court, accusing him of luring poor minorities into buying overpriced houses with mortgages that had hidden costs.
The White House pardon had come without a recommendation from the Justice Department's pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, because Toussie applied less than five years after completion of his sentence. But White House counsel Fred Fielding initially reviewed the application, Perino said, and "believed, based on the information known to him at the time, that it was" meritorious.
Bush now believes the case should rest with the pardon attorney.
Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel during Bush's first term and Toussie's lawyer, said in a statement that his client remained confident the pardon attorney would grant his request.
Toussie, 37, "looks forward to the pardon attorney's expeditious review of the application," Berenson said. He declined to elaborate further on the case.
The Justice Department advises the president on who qualifies for pardons. Only people who have waited five years after their conviction or release from prison can apply under Justice guidelines. Criminals must begin serving time, or otherwise exhaust any appeals, before they can be considered for sentence commutation.
But under the Constitution, the president's power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled - meaning he can forgive anyone he wants, at any time.
Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and a close follower of presidential clemency decisions, said the White House decision was, "at best, embarrassing."
With the reversal, Bush has granted a total of 189 pardons and nine commutations - fewer than half as many as Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan issued during their two-term tenures.